The 42nd annual Country Music Assn. Awards, the most prestigious awards in country music, will be presented on Wednesday. To help you bone up for the big night, here are two lists. The first ranks the top 15 country albums in Nielsen/SoundScan history, which dates to 1991. The second ranks the 10 country songs with the most paid downloads.
Garth Brooks is the leading artist on the album list, with four of the 15 best-selling albums in the tracking firm's history. Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain have three and two albums in the top 15, respectively. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, country's hottest couple, each have an album in the top 15. (But who's on top? Place your bets.)
Albums from the '90s and the early part of this decade have an advantage in the album recap, because recent albums are hard-pressed to match those sales levels. But songs of more recent vintage have an advantage in the second list, because song downloading has really taken off in the last few years.
Here are the 15 best-selling country albums. The number directly following the title is the album's total sales, from May 25, 1991 through this week. The number at the end of each listing shows where the album ranks on Nielsen/SoundScan's running list of the top 200 albums in its history.
1. Shania Twain, Come On Over, 15,469,000. In addition to being the best-selling album in country music history, Come On Over is the best-selling album from any genre in the Nielsen/SoundScan era. An amazing eight songs from the 1997 album crossed over to the Hot 100. "You're Still The One," "From This Moment On" and "That Don't Impress Me Much" were Twain's first three top 10 hits. Over the course of its long run, the album brought Twain four Grammys and the CMA Award for Entertainer of the Year. Top 200 ranking: #1.
2. Garth Brooks, Ropin' The Wind, 9,571,000. Brooks' third album, from 1991, rewrote the record books. It was the first country album to debut at #1 on The Billboard 200. It logged more weeks at #1 (18) and in the top 10 (50) than any country album before or since. It remains the best-selling album by a male artist in country music history. No songs from the album made the Hot 100, though three topped the country chart, including a cover of Billy Joel's "Shameless." Ropin' brought Brooks a Grammy and two CMA Awards, including Album of the Year. Top 200 ranking: #21.
3. Garth Brooks, No Fences, 9,010,000. Brooks' second album, from 1990, brought him four CMA Awards, including Album of the Year. Four songs from the album reached #1 on the country chart, including "Friends In Low Places" (which won a CMA Award for Single of the Year) and "The Thunder Rolls" (the CMA choice for Music Video of the Year). None of the songs made the Hot 100 at the time, though in 2000, "Wild Horses" belatedly scored. Top 200 ranking: #26.
4. Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces, 8,655,000. This 1998 album is the best-selling debut album in country music history. It's also the best-selling album by a group in country history. It brought the Chicks five CMA Awards and two Grammys, including Best Country Album. It spawned five Hot 100 hits, including the title track, which won a CMA Award for Single of the Year. Two songs from the album, "There's Your Trouble" and "You Were Mine," made the top 40. Top 200 ranking: #28.
5. Dixie Chicks, Fly, 8,289,000. The Chicks' second album spawned a remarkable seven Hot 100 hits, including five that made the top 40. The biggest of all was the revenge fantasy "Goodbye Earl," which became the trio's first top 20 hit. The first single released from the album was "Ready To Run" from the hit movie Runaway Bride. The 1999 album brought the trio four CMA Awards, including Album of the Year, and two Grammys, including Best Country Album. Top 200 ranking: #35.
6. Garth Brooks, The Hits, 7,821,000. This is the best-selling greatest hits album in country music history. (Runners-up on the Nielsen/SoundScan list: Tim McGraw's Greatest Hits and Alan Jackson's The Greatest Hits Collection). The album, Brooks' seventh, was released in 1994. Top 200 ranking: #41.
7. Shania Twain, The Woman In Me, 7,605,000. Five songs from the album made the Hot 100, including "Any Man Of Mine," which became Twain's first 40 hit. The 1995 album won a Grammy for Best Country Album, an honor that eluded Twain's even more successful follow-up, Come On Over. This was Twain's second album. Top 200 ranking: #45.
8. Billy Ray Cyrus, Some Gave All, 7,464,000. This album set a record in 1992 that still stands. It's the only album (from any genre) in Nielsen/SoundScan history to log 17 consecutive weeks at #1. It's also the top-ranking debut album by a male country artist. The album logged 43 weeks in the top 10, a total topped by only one country album in history-Ropin' The Wind. Some Gave All spawned three Hot 100 hits, including the crossover smash "Achy Breaky Heart," which won a CMA Award for Single of the Year. Top 200 ranking: #49.
9. O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, 7,421,000. This 2001 album is the best-selling soundtrack in country music history. (In second place: George Strait's Pure Country.) O Brother won a CMA Award for Album of the Year. A track from the album, the Soggy Bottom Boys' "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow," won a CMA award for Single of the Year. The album received five Grammys, including Album of the Year. This is the best-selling country album released in this decade. Top 200 ranking: #50.
10. Carrie Underwood, Some Hearts, 6,568,000. This 2005 album transformed the American Idol winner into a country superstar. It surpassed LeAnn Rimes' Blue to become the best-selling debut album by a female solo artist in country music history. Over the course of its long run, the album brought Underwood three Grammys and four CMA Awards. The album contained four Hot 100 hits, including "Inside Your Heaven," Underwood's post-Idol victory single, and "Before He Cheats," the country song with the most paid downloads in history. Top 200 ranking: #70.
11. Faith Hill, Breathe, 6,504,000. This 1999 album spawned four Hot 100 hits, including the title song, which became Hill's first top five pop hit, and "The Way You Love Me," which made the top 10. The album also featured "Let's Make Love," a duet with husband Tim McGraw. The album, Hill's fourth, has outsold any McGraw album. It brought Hill three Grammys and a CMA Award for Female Vocalist of the Year. One of those Grammys was for Best Country Album, an honor that has so far eluded McGraw. Top 200 ranking: #72.
12. Garth Brooks, Double Live, 6,015,000. The 1998 album had first-week sales of 1,085,000 copies, which remains the biggest first-week sales tally in country music history. Double Live is the best-selling double album and the best-selling live album in country music history. (In second place among double albums: Shania Twain's Up!). "It's Your Song," a track from Double Live, became Brooks' first Hot 100 hit taken from one of his albums. This was Brooks' 11th album. Top 200 ranking: #84.
13. Tim McGraw, Not A Moment Too Soon, 5,998,000. McGraw's 1994 debut album spawned a pair of top 20 hits on the Hot 100, "Indian Outlaw" and "Don't Take The Girl." Top 200 ranking: #86.
14. LeAnn Rimes, Blue, 5,993,000. Rimes was just 13 when this album was released in July 1996. The title track was written for, but not recorded by, country legend Patsy Cline. Rimes' recording of the song became a top 30 hit on the Hot 100. The album brought Rimes two Grammys, including Best New Artist, and the CMA Horizon Award. Top 200 ranking: #87.
15. Dixie Chicks, Home, 5,979,000. This 2002 album had first-week sales of 780,000, which remains the biggest opening by a group in country music history. The album spawned Dixie Chicks' first two top 10 hits on the Hot 100, "Long Time Gone" and a faithful cover of Fleetwood Mac's 1975 track "Landslide." The album brought the group four Grammys and a CMA Award. This was the trio's third consecutive release to win a Grammy for Best Country Album. Top 200 ranking: #89.
Here are the 10 country songs with the most paid downloads. The number directly after the title is the total number of paid downloads, through this week. The number at the end of each listing is where the song ranks on Nielsen/SoundScan's running list of the 200 songs with the most paid downloads.
1. Carrie Underwood, "Before He Cheats," 2,512,000. This top 10 smash was the fourth single from Underwood's debut album Some Hearts. It brought Underwood her second straight Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and her second straight CMA Award for Female Vocalist of the Year. It also won a CMA Award for Single of the Year. Top 200 ranking: #24.
2. Taylor Swift, "Teardrops On My Guitar," 1,960,000. Swift co-wrote this song, which was the first smash from her debut album, Taylor Swift. The success of the album brought Swift the CMA Horizon Award. Top 200 ranking: #62.
3. Rascal Flatts, "Life Is A Highway," 1,843,000. This was from the 2006 soundtrack to the animated movie Cars. It was the group's second top 10 hit on the Hot 100. It helped the group maintain their winning streak at the CMA Awards, where they have been voted Vocal Group of the Year five years in a row. Top 200 ranking: #78.
4. Taylor Swift, "Our Song," 1,840,000. Swift wrote this song, which was the second top 20 hit from her debut album. It helped propel the album to sales of more than 3.5 million copies. Top 200 ranking: #80.
5. Rascal Flatts, "What Hurts The Most," 1,629,000. This was the lead single (and biggest crossover hit) from the trio's 2006 album Me And My Gang. It reached #6 on the Hot 100, becoming the group's first top 10 pop hit. Top 200 ranking: #104.
6. Rascal Flatts, "Bless The Broken Road," 1,386,000. This philosophical ballad was the second single (and biggest crossover hit) from the trio's 2004 album, Feels Like Today. Top 200 ranking: #133.
7. Carrie Underwood, "Jesus, Take The Wheel," 1,366,000. This was the second single from Underwood's debut album. Its success made Underwood the first artist since LeAnn Rimes to win both the CMA Horizon Award and the Grammy for Best New Artist. It also gave Underwood both organizations' female vocalist honors. Top 200 ranking: #139.
8. Dixie Chicks, "Not Ready To Make Nice," 1,242,000. The trio co-wrote this song, which expressed their feelings about the backlash that followed lead singer Natalie Maines' disparaging remarks about President Bush in March 2003. The mid-tempo ballad brought the trio three Grammys, including Record and Song of the Year, but it wasn't even nominated at the controversy-averse CMA Awards. It reached #4 on the Hot 100, making it the Chicks' biggest crossover hit. Top 200 ranking: #171.
9. Big & Rich, "Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)," 1,236,000. This was the second single from the duo's 2004 album Horse Of A Different Color. Big & Rich (Big Kenny and John Rich) co-wrote the song, which is its biggest crossover hit. Top 200 ranking: #173.
10. Nelly featuring Tim McGraw, "Over And Over," 1,144,000. This ground-breaking rap/country collaboration was the second single from Nelly's 2004 album, Suit. It wasn't a country hit, but it featured a leading country star, so I'm sneaking it in. It reached #3 on the Hot 100, higher than any of McGraw's own singles. McGraw has also charted with three duets with Hill and one with Jo Dee Messina. Top 200 ranking: #200.